Countdown, #2: Insomnia

 

My last five posts of 2018 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year. “Insomnia” seemed to strike a common chord among readers.

 

Insomnia

Lying awake
at two in the morning,

wondering
how a dog would suffer

sleeplessness –
silently, or with little

growls and snuffles,
scratching at its

padded bed
in exasperation,

circling, turning
back, again.

I roll to the left,
then to the right,

and flat on my back,
groaning at the pain

in my hip and the anger
of the day’s impending

bull on my shoulders,
and the looming

banshee cry
of that damned alarm.

 

Countdown, #3: Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

My last five posts of 2018 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year.

 

 

Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

In spring 1983 I enrolled in a poetry writing course thinking it might help improve my short fiction. I was a history major by default, had never taken a course in poetry, but believed, with absolutely no evidence, that I could write fiction. At the time I would have been hard-pressed to name five contemporary poets, even counting my professor. To be honest, the class struggled to hold my attention. Only about a quarter of the students seemed interested in writing, and the instructor was a bit, uh, tired. But for the first time in my life I read, really read, poetry. I fell in love with Galway Kinnell, Ai, James Wright and Carolyn Forche, to name just a few of my early enthusiasms. I wanted to write like them. So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Most of it was laughably bad, but somehow I managed to win an undergraduate poetry contest, which suggested that hope existed. Maybe someday, I thought, one of my poems will be published. This radical idea had never occurred to me before. Publication seemed to be the privilege of special people, and a lifetime of gathered fact revealed that I was unequivocably nothing special.

Early on in the semester, perhaps even in the first class, the professor asked how many of us thought we’d still be writing poetry in twenty years. I didn’t raise my hand. I didn’t know where I’d be in six months, much less what I’d be doing in twenty years. Since I’d realized late in the game that teaching was not for me, I had no job prospects, and few marketable skills, despite experience in chugging beer, manning sound-powered phones on a ship’s helicopter tower, scraping barnacles and bending rules. The world was limited. The world was limitless.

Another gray day

dividing the old and young

Oh, this aching hip!

 

A song from that time:

Countdown, #4: The Stone Remains Silent Even When Disturbed

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My last five posts of 2018 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year.

 

The Stone Remains Silent Even When Disturbed

In whose tongue
do you dream?
I fall closer to death

than birth, yet
the moon’s sliver
still parts the bare

branches and an unfilled
trench divides the
ground. Bit by bit,

we separate – you
remain in the earth,
recumbent, as I gather

years in stride.
Even the rain
leaves us alone.

 

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This first appeared in December 2015.

Countdown, #5: Every Drop

 

 

My last five posts of 2018 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year.

 

Every Drop

Your light singes my roots
even deep underground, where
worms revel in your joy

and all the days’ secrets line up
awaiting their turn to kneel and
unwrap their daily truths in the
comfort of the chambered soil.

If I were a seed, I would wait
for your touch before sprouting,
and only then would I surge

to the surface, swallowing
your gift. Greedy but grateful,
I’d open, drink every drop.

 

Two Poems Up at Defuncted

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I’ve two poems up at Defuncted, a journal dedicated to reprinting pieces from defunct publications. All too often our work simply disappears when a publication ceases operating, so I’m particularly grateful to editor Roo Black for providing writers with the opportunity to rejuvenate their work.

Which Poet, Which Beer (4)

I come here to sit quietly, emerging from my shack, if only briefly, to eavesdrop and observe, to sip beer and participate in the world of commerce. Ah, yes. The grocery store. If only all of them housed craft-beer bars. I place cilantro and shallots in my basket, add arugula, asparagus and a lime, and wander over to the fish case where two small fillets of Chilean sea bass, the commercial name for Patagonian toothfish, catch my eye.

Finally at the bar, I order Lone Pint Brewery’s Zeno’s Pale Ale, and overhear a disquisition on hydration and landscaping, and a conversation on war and snipers and gratitude. The ale arrives with a light, lacey head, exudes a bready malt profile upfront, and a pine-citrus punch at the back. I can’t quite uncover the truth of the flavor, but enjoy the search, and amidst the swirling combination of voices and beer I somehow think of Veronica Golos’ “Snow in April,” a ghazal in her stunning book Vocabulary of Silence.

“Has my flock of flowers died? An ambush, a bullet-shot
of cold. Undone beneath the snow, what’s truth, in April?”

What is the sniper’s truth? What gratitude might we find within April’s layers? I have no answers, only more questions, and with more questions comes thirst.

My second beer is a curious blend of old and new – a Belgian-style quadrupel that, don’t laugh, smells a bit like a cola, but in a good way. Unibroue’s Trois Pistolesis dark brown, let’s call it mahogany, with a fruity but mellow flavor and a toasty malt finish. And well balanced – with an alcohol content of 9%, it’s strong, but not too strong. Historical undercurrents flow through this brew, yet it also brings with it an appreciation of the new and popular, which leads to thoughts of one of my favorite poets, Frank Bidart, whose work often refers to and resonates with historical figures (in the book at hand, Watching the Spring Festival, Tu Fu and Catullus come to mind), and his poem “Sanjaya at 17,” referencing an American Idol contestant:

“There is a creature, among all others, one,
within whose voice there is a secret voice
which once heard
unlocks the door that unlocks the mountain.”

Today the mountain does not swing open for me. Perhaps a second Trois Pistoles might have done the trick, but instead, knowing I have to prepare dinner, starting with a compound butter of shallot, cilantro, garlic and lime zest, I request a mere taste of Founder’s Breakfast Stout, because, well, the idea of stout for breakfast has a certain appeal, though in my case would not be practical, as it would likely put me to sleep. And yes, it contains both chocolate and coffee (Sumatra and Kona), tastes a bit smoky, is smooth and luxurious in the mouth, and makes me long for a lonely, cold winter’s night in a far-off country, a fire crackling with just a hint of madness, and the full moon leering down at all of us, but particularly the dead genius that was Thomas James, whose poem “Wild Cherries,” from his one and only book Letters to a Stranger, ends:

I watch you eat, tasting yourself perhaps,
Some bitterness that is a part of you,
And I accept it gratefully. When you smile,
I see you dying in that single instant.
Walking back home, into ourselves, we enter
A far-off country neither of us wanted.”

Oh, those things we want and don’t want. To feel. To write. To cook, to sing. To share. To love. To be alone. To be numb. To do nothing. To do everything…

This first appeared on the blog in September 2017.